Friday, March 29, 2013

Sunday Classics preview: Two of our "J" and "K" conductors shine in Mozart


As a native Salzburger, not to mention a man with ambitions to be master of all the musical heights, Herbert von Karajan tried, tried, and tried again to make his mark in Mozart. This Don Giovanni Overture is better than many of his efforts -- far from great, but not bad.

by Ken

In the "modern era" of Sunday Classics we've had occasion to take note -- largely but entirely coincidentally -- of four conductors from roughly the same era who to me epitomize "musicality," something I'd rather have you listen to and glean for yourselves than attempt to define. So far we've heard our three "K" conductors (Rudolf Kempe, Josef Krips, and Rafael Kubelik; preview and main post) and our "J" conductor (Eugen Jochum; Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) alphabetically segregated. This week as we move into the treacherous terrain of Mozart, and specifically the Mozart operas, we're going to cross-group, since two of our conductors are responsible for what seem to me two of the all-time great operatic recordings.

For tonight, though, we're just going to focus on the openings of two great Mozart operas, what seems to me his first true operatic masterpiece, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and that towering masterpiece from the height of his creative outpouring, Don Giovanni. (Actually, we first heard this music, and many of these recordings, in a May 2010 preview post.) I hope this will be fun because we're going to hear these two overtures, neither a stranger to the concert platform, as stand-alone pieces, with little concert endings tacked on, and then we're going to hear them the way they were composed, to lead directly into the operas' opening numbers.


MOZART: The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384: Overture

Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, cond. EMI, recorded c1981

MOZART: Don Giovanni, K. 527: Overture

Staatskapelle Dresden, Sir Colin Davis, cond. BMG, recorded c1998


Mozart, like most composers of his time, didn't feel any need to use tunes from the actual operas in his overtures, though he might use maybe one. In the Don Giovanni Overture, of course, it's the thundering opening music, which is the music we're going to hear when Don Giovanni's expected guest makes his highly unexpected appearance in the Final Scene, one of the wonders of the human imagination.

In The Abduction, rather obviously, he does something especially wonderful. The Overture itself is basically an A-B-A affair, with a lustily clanging and jangling Turkish-style "A" section bracketing a meltingly lovely "B" section in which he plays with major and minor variants. At least in concert form, it's in A-B-A form; in the opera proper, the repetition of "A" is followed by a repetition of "A" that is in fact the entrance aria of our hero, Belmonte.

One recording I've added for this go-around is the opening of the Krips-EMI Abduction from the Seraglio. It's not Krips at his very best (unlike the Decca Don Giovanni, which for sure is), but Krips at his "pretty good" is pretty darned good, and our "new" Belmonte is the highly versatile tenor Nicolai Gedda, whom we've heard in all sorts of repertory (in five languages, I think).

MOZART: The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384: Overture and Aria, Belmonte, "Hier soll ich dich denn sehen, Constanze?"
BELMONTE: Here then am I to see you,
Constanze -- you, my happiness?
Let Heaven make it happen!
Give me my peace back!
I suffered sorrows,
o Love, all too many of them.
Grant me now in their place joys
and bring me toward the goal.

Fritz Wunderlich (t), Belmonte; Bavarian State Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1965

Kurt Streit (t), Belmonte; Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Weil, cond. Sony, recorded Apr. 2-10, 1991

Nicolai Gedda (t), Belmonte; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. EMI, recorded February 1966

MOZART: Don Giovanni, K. 527: Overture and Aria, Leporello, "Notte e giorno faticar"
LEPORELLO: Toiling night and day,
Working for someone who can't be satisfied.
Putting up with rain and wind,
Eating badly and sleeping badly.
I want to play the gentleman,
And I don't want to be a servant anymore.
Ah, what a dear gallant man!
He wants to be inside with a beauty
And I play sentinel!

But it seems to me . . . someone's coming;
I don't want to be seen.

Fernando Corena (bs), Leporello; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. Decca, recorded June 1955

José van Dam (bs-b), Leporello; Paris Opera Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded June 22-July 6, 1978

Walter Berry (bs-b), Leporello; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1966


We focus on the Krips-Decca Don Giovanni and Jochum's DG Così fan tutte.

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